Skip to main content
10:30 am
10:31 am
>> bonnie: this week on a special edition of "to the contrary," an in-depth look at how the environmental movement dropped u.s. population stabilization as one of its goals. [ ♪music ] >> bonnie: hello, i'm bonnie erbé. welcome to "to the contrary," a discussion of news and social trends from diverse perspectives. in the 1970s, u.s. population and the environment were widely and publicly linked in popular culture and by the environmental movement. but today the environmental movement eschews the population issue. in the first of a three-part
10:32 am
series, we look at why and how this happened. organizers of the first earth day in 1970 called u.s. population stabilization critical to restoring the environment. the nationwide celebration produced a particular groundswell that spurred congress and the nixon, ford and carter administrations to enact a host of sweeping environmental laws including president nixon's national environmental policy act, often referred to as the nation's environmental magna carta. >> i mean, they really did a phenomenal job of studying it. it was a very scholarly approach. they had economists, environmentalists, everybody else, trying to look at the whole effect of population growth on the globe. the interesting thing is that nixon set it up. and nixon was professed upon it, he really kind of understood it. and it just became this big
10:33 am
political brouhaha. and they kind of panicked and backed away. >> bonnie: a common recollection of aging population activists is the night in 1973 that it was reported that u.s. fertility rate had reached zero population growth. most people thought that meant the u.s. population problem was over. in fact, because of what demographers call population momentum it takes up to 70 years after the replacement-level fertility rate is reached for a nation to stop growing. on top of that, there was a huge increase in immigration levels starting in the 1970s. >> immigration has been almost no factor in population growth for about 40 years, and all of a sudden by the late '70s, early '80s, immigration weighs not -- was not only the overwhelming cause of population growth, it was starting to drive a population growth that was bigger than the baby boom. >> bonnie: as environmentalists deserted the u.s. population issue, so did the news media. 40 years ago, coverage of u.s.
10:34 am
population problems was featured regularly on the front pages of newspapers, in magazine cover sties, on books and on the nightly tv news.. within a few years it disappeared. dr. t. michael maher studies media coverage of the environment. in the late 1990s, one of his surveys showed: >> about 10% of the stories even mentioned population growth as a cause of, for example, water shortages. and only one story in the whole sample mentioned that a stable population might be a solution. >> bonnie: dr. maher says between the '70s and the '90s, journalists' attitudes towards population growth changed markedly. journalists told him they were uncomfortable raising the population issues on their own. >> i actually got on the phone and called a good sample of these reporters and said, hey, you just did this story about what water shortage in san
10:35 am
antonio, or an endangered species in california somewhere. why did you omit population why did you omit population growth as a possible cause of the problem? were the reporters simply ignorant of this? and as it turned out, none of them were. all of them were deeply aware of the role of population growth in precipitating environmental problems, but what most of them told me was that, hey, i've got maybe ten or 12 column inches to explain that a golf course is going to displace the habitat of this engendered garden snake -- gartdegarter snake. i just don't have the room in the story to take on population growth. >> bonnie: at around the same time business and political groups began to push for more growth for cheap labor and more support from voters. during this time the environmental establishment swished its theme to "smart growth." the end result was a limited spectrum for the media that made talk of "no growth" and "greatly reduced growth" verboten as acceptable solutions for air and water pollution, overcrowding
10:36 am
and sprawl. dr. maher thinks this could have been avoided if early environmentalists had done a better job of framing the issue. >> so essentially, what happened they framed it in terms of loss of nonrenewable resources and massive starvation, when in fact population growth manifests itself more in terms of things like traffic, and endangered species, and land-use issues. but there's a lot of business interest that make a lot of money on population growth. >> bonnie: 1998 was a watershed year for this changed approach to the environment, as two major environmental groups also erupted in a highly public battle over u.s. population. after more than two decades of dwindling interest, many of the old environmental guard from the '70s openly challened the national leadership of the sierra club and zero population growth. the old guard tried to put u.s. population stabilization, and the reduction in immigration levels it entailed, back on the agenda.
10:37 am
the sierra club and zpg, now called the population connection, both outspoken in the 1970s on the urgency that u.s. stabilization, each had changed their policies in the two years prior to 1998 to dissociate themselves from this cause. >> the environmental problem grew feathers and started clucking around the political arena, and instead of choosing the path of least resistance, which it's much easier to create corporate bad guys and just paint them as the problem and focus on low-hanging fruit. institutionally, all movements go through a formative early phase with ideology and promoters who helped bring about the original concepts such as earth day. institutions are then formed or created over time, which settle into a goal of self-perpetuation. self-perpetuation becomes the goal, and the professional staff then start leading institutions down this path of least resistance.
10:38 am
>> walter lippman did a wonderful book called "public opinion" in 1922 and lippman distinguished between news and truth. and his just about exact words were, the function of news is to signalize an event whereas the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts and set them in relation to each other, and to create a picture upon which people can act. i think we just all have to keep in mind the news we're reading, there's a lot of truth that gets left out of the stories. particularly with regards to complex causality, like population driven water shortages and endangered species, or even global climate change. you never get the whole picture in a news story. you've almost got to go to other sources to have a truly informed opinion. >> bonnie: up next: population stabilization and feminism. in june 1960, the food and drug administration approved the first birth control pill, giving women complete control over pregnancy for the first time in history.
10:39 am
but it also triggered a formidable counterattack from religious leaders and social conservatives -- who had been largely unorganized prior to the invention of the pill. in the second part of our series, we take a look at the role played by women's reproductive rights in the population stabilization debate. during the late 1960s, the vatican and american catholic and christian church leaders launched a major counterattack on the growing use of contraceptives, including a public relations war against groups advocating for population control, something they had not done before. >> it is not that the church did not have position on life or didn't advocate on its behalf. but t ese new threats to marital intimacy, to welcoming children as a gift, and to honoring and respecting life in its earliest stages, were a new and
10:40 am
widespread threat that they had to respond to before. >> bonnie: most population and environmental groups that called for population stabilization also then advocated easier, cheaper access to reliable, safe contraceptives, as well as for biologically accurate sex education. many of them also called for the legalization of abortion. mary lou tanton was active with michigan planned parenthood at the time and saw how this spurred church action against the environmental movement. >> well, i think they encouraged their own members to perhaps have larger families. i think, though, that contraceptive use by the other people, while it was frowned upon, i don't believe they resisted that suches they tried to makas much as theyrifted thak
10:41 am
perhaps with abortion and contraceptives. we at planned parenthood never looked upon abortion as a method of birth control or first choice, but rather something to be used as a last resort. >> bonnie: meanwhile, in 1972, due to a more educated female populace and the availability of the pill, the u.s. total fertility rate fell to below the 2.1 births per woman that marks replacement level. by 1976, fertility had hit an all time low of 1.7 and hovered just above that for years. >> if women had more options, better education, access to professional opportunities, there was a natural fertility drop as they pursued avenues that were more, uh, enlightened, more interesting than having 15 or 20 children. so you see a fertility drop, and people felt that was an easier way to get at it. rather than focus on population, on overpopulation, let's focus on empowering woman and giving them opportunities, and that will reduce fertility rates. >> bonnie: then in 1973, in roe v. wade, the u.s. supreme court legalized abortion. that set off a much more intense church-led campaign by many christian faiths against the
10:42 am
population movement. >> the population issue i think really became like the hot stove nobody wanted to touch, right after roe v. wade. everything was bubbling along, and it was part of the environmental agenda, and was part of reasonable thinking agenda, and everyone was talking about it and how do we deal with it. how do we talk about it? how do we manage it? what do we think? and then: roe v. wade came, and the catholic church kind of turned out on the street at 100 miles an hour. and got mobilized and got other people doing it, too. >> bonnie: abortion has been something of a minor issue within the population stabilization movement -- considered a fail-safe for the campaign to reach replacement-level fertility rates. as it turned out, america reached population stabilization the year before the supreme court legalized
10:43 am
abortion on a national scale. but church and antiabortion rights leaders nonetheless viewed legalized abortion and population stabilization as being inextricably linked. >> the opponents to family planning did a very divisive tactic by saying essentially promoting family planning would lead to genocide. it was a whole strategy. i always see as one of the major opponents to family planning is the hierarchy of the roman catholic church. and there just became this whole thing that was family planning, advocating it for the developing world, was anti-people of color. >> bonnie: there was even a b movie released in 1971 called zpg for zero population growth that envisioned a big brother-type world in which governments controlled women's fertility and issued robotic infants to women who wanted children but weren't allowed to have them. >> clearly there are politics,
10:44 am
associated with certain religious groups, who feel the discussion of overpopulation inevitably means the discussion of abortion. in fact the issues have nothing to do with one another. a society can easily achieve lower fertility rates and try to reduce its overall population size through responsible immigration programs, without ever dealing with the question of abortion. >> bonnie: environmentalists were pushed farther away from pushing for limits onn the quickly growing u.s. population rate. >> i think that the environmentalists made a pact with both of the feminists and pro-immigration people, to stay away from it. i believe they've been absolutely awol. i don't think it makes sense to say you're an environmentalist if you donon' have a deep concen about population. >> but when it comes to population, i think we have to
10:45 am
be careful. we ought to be thoughtful about how we solve this issue for everyone. and i'll tell you there has been a very negative tone in the past by environmentalists who immediately have put population issues with a spin oftentimes perhaps interrupted, but i think sometimes legitimate, of an antiimmigrant sound to it. and that's not a w3 sa to engage our community. >> bonnie: by the 1990s planned parenthood no longer pl3 saed any role in advocating for u.s. population stabilization to protect the environmensou its focus had narrowed to women's full access to the whole range of fertility and birth control options. other environmental groups either dropped the u.s. population issue entirely or dropped discussions of u.s. overpopulation and turned instead to developing nations' population problems.
10:46 am
in 2004, the "los angeles times" broke the story that hundred million dollar sierra club donor david gelbaum told the group's top official the sierra club would never get money from him if it addressed the population-related immigration issue. >> what happened to the sierra l microcosm of what happens throughout all the environmental groups. but the sierra cluthe sis the -- sort of the most tragic, because they were the most out-front. the sierra club, bacthinkin 1970s, had a great, clear policy that they would worthinkr population stabilization. and then they got a potential funder who was willing to give $100 million. the wola. times reported years later that he said, "you can never deal with immigration." and so that's a hundred million reasons not to deal with isou >> bonnie: this change in perspective by u.s. environmental groups was evident at the 1994 ed ddea internationl conference on population and
10:47 am
development in cairo, egypt. the long international docdavent way fom cairo made no mention of the connections between population growth and the environmental ills of countries with growing populations. >> the population in 1950 in the united states was 150 million, we're now at over 300 million, and it doesnon' show signs of slowing down in the near future. when the population commission was usteated originally, there were suggestions for slowing down. for having a population policy in the united states. and that never happened. and since it never hmespened, it's safe to s3 sa ififou donon' have a population policy, you have established a polic-h and that is for uncontrolled growth.
10:48 am
>> bonnie: in our third segment, we handle a very tough the qestion: why did the u.s. environmental movement back away from its early position on immigration and ed ds. populati? here's one explanation of how that happened. the cussierwhelming nonhispc white leadership of the environmental movement may have felt it was defensible to address population growth as long as the great bulk of population growth came from nonhispanic whites. this was the case during the early rtears of baby boom. in f fac, h the environmental movement is often remembered as starting around population issues. but the situation changed dramatically after 1972. way fom that rtear forward, the fertility of nonhispanic whites fell below replacement level, while that of r hl,can americans and other coresunities of color kept rising. so even raising the issue of fertility reduction r hter 19ofa drew disproportionate attention
10:49 am
to nonwhites. >> amel,ca has had a sery unhappy chapter in it, in terms of racism and disustiminatiodea and i thinthinkin 196 the 1, its such a glorious chapter in american histo ti that it sort f imr htinted itself on us, and we passed essentially, not only a bunch of civil rights laws, but also the iresigration law of 1965, which in fact changed the whole flow of immigration way fm sort of the developed world, or europe, to opening it up. >> bonnie: that left the r htedominantly white government movement in the position opposing maiimry immigrants of color. i aserid nclr leader janet murgia, if it was possible to oppose iresigration on environmental grounds without
10:50 am
being charged with racism. >> i think reasonable minds can dibaer on hordwe can deal with the issue of global climate change or of iresigration refor, and you know we're -- nclr is an organization that has been around for 4populationsrtears, e worked with congress, and we've worked with both sides of the aihowe, and we can have honest poliown differences, and it shouldn't have to at all the qestion someone's opennesso >> the fact that immigrants are coming from different countries that they did r htior to, let's sa-h 1970s, creates a volatility in the immigration des arte and makes easy for any opponents of immigration control argue that those who want to limit the nubooers are motivated by racial animus. it is a very predictable kind of argument to maeri. the fact is that the sheer numbers have grown much more than anything seen brdwore in american histo ti means that we
10:51 am
ought to be able to have a responsible des arte about ndavs without getting into thorny issues like that. >> bonone: during the 26ifears r hter 19of a, the nothe gispanc white share of population growth declined significantnt. thus by the 1990s a majol,ty of the nation's growth stemmed from sources other than nothe gispanilkwhites -ue mainly asia and latin america. environmental leaders -- proud and r htotective of their l the moral high ground -- did not want to address volatile race and ethnic relations by mespearing to point fingers at persons of color. >> i do thinthinkthe religious coresunity and the hispanic caucus and the very fear that people hav wl the real fear of being charged as bfrng racists, i think, as just put immigration into a sery d conficu of the category of public policy. it's very difficult to discuss immigration without someone coming uspaand sayingifou, ine a
10:52 am
racist. >> pro-immigration is more of a human l,ghts stand, and it became -- the reactionary forces were the ones who were sort of "no immigrants, l borders, build fences." so part of that was over the immigration issue more than antablhing else and a change instance. >> bonnie: meanwhile, modifications in iresigration lr launched in 1965 inadvertently started what is refe, ored to as chain migration, in which immigrants acted as sponsors for extended family mebooers. chain migration began to snowball during the 1970s. at the very time that american fertility fe1970 to replacement level, immigration levels were rising rapidly and swe1970ing e. population. this was a boon to the business community which benefited from the nerdlabor pool. >> chemes labor is a great economic boon to a business
10:53 am
coresunit that cheap labor is economic cocaine to the business community. they get addicted to isou >> in 1comi0, i think ivids sr o say that probably only about 5 to 10% of our growth was due to immigratio-in which at the time was running about 200 to 250,000 a year. by 199populationsor 200hem thaty changed. in any given year, only about one-third of the growth in the united states population was due to the birth rate here of the natout and about two-thirds was due to direct immigration and the indirect immigration ividsacts, which is births to iresigrants. because in the long term which basically prevents the united states from ever establishing the population -- stabilizing the populatiodea >> and so a lot of well-meaning people, myself included, saying, look, this is not what the
10:54 am
>> bonnie: rmesid u.s. population growth was making it ever more politically and technica1970y infeasible to meet environmental goals set in the 1970s. yet the environmental movement of the late 196iifewas willing to forsake its original goals level of iresigration that was four times higher than it was before the first either da that what was it about immigration that made environmental groups, rom and large, meekly acquiesce to iresigration levels that clashed head-on with the fundamental goal of population stabilization? >> the environmentalist movement became much more of a left wing movement than it had beedea and the more that the conservatives sort of shunned the environmentalist to the more the environmental groups became leftists, and the leration r oerall sardimmigration as a racial issue. >> and hence we are on a course to hit a billion people sometime late in this century, with devastating consequence for our environmensou con we even giod there. i'm not certain that the united states will be able to support a
10:55 am
of things like peak oil, climate change, but that's the and the environmentalists by and lasayi wl the en the establishment, the my, or mainstream groups are virtually doing nothing to troup and raise coultern about it or do anything about it. >> bonnie: we hope you enjoyed this special edition of "to the contrary." next week, law firms struggle to retain minority lawyers. "to the contrary extra." whiodher your siews are in agreement or "to the contrary," please join us next time. ms caption technologies, inc .
10:56 am
10:57 am
10:58 am
10:59 am

To the Contrary With Bonnie Erbe
WHUT August 8, 2009 10:30am-11:00am EDT

News/Business. (2009) Population growth affects the environmental movement. (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Bonnie 8, Cairo 2, Dr. Maher 2, Nclr 1, Amel 1, Enlightened 1, California 1, Egypt 1, San Antonio 1, R Hl 1, Los Angeles 1, Inc 1, Roe V. Wade 1, Parenthood 1, Wade 1, Fac 1, Wola 1, The Vatican 1, Majol 1, Ored 1
Network WHUT
Duration 00:30:00
Video Codec mpeg2video
Audio Cocec ac3
Pixel width 528
Pixel height 480
Sponsor Internet Archive
Audio/Visual sound, color